Consuuummee!! a road map to thinking outside the box and re-evaluating existence.
In the states we like to pretend that everything we do is ‘rational,’ and solely practical. That somehow our way of life is “neutral” and not connected to any of that bad politics stuff. We think that we do the things we do because it is ‘rationally simplest’ or ‘economically necessary,’ not because it is one way, among many, of living. It is the only ‘good’ way. The American way.
With our incumbent president of 2016, it is clear that the conspiracy of silence and the insane insistence on ‘a-political’ talk has got to go. It’s time to question everything, to the core and roots, everywhere, at every chance.
If this very insistence on ‘non-ideology’ isn’t the hallmark of a present (though very evasive and thorough-going) ideology, I don’t know what is. What could make it more clear? Is our average suburban experience so pure & innocent of ‘ideology,’ as we believe? Sorry, No.
(I focus on the middle classes here, because the working and poor and homeless are the ones who experience our ideology, in its terrifying contradictions, every second of their lives. How? Let’s explore.)
A little groundwork-
An ideology is pretty much the logic of our way of thinking. Idea-logic, the system of reasoning and meaning by which we interpret and shape the world. Got it? Good.
Obviously, an ideology is political, but as we will see, it encompasses everything. The things which we commonly regard as isolated from any political context are always ideological. Here is the model we will use to expose and escape our ideology, it’s simple-
‘Politics’ is an attempt to govern and manage our society.
‘Society’ is nothing other than what we are doing- the patterns of social interaction of our days and nights.
Our patterns of interaction are nothing other than our psychological and physiological Desires, our conscious & unconscious interpretation of the scene before our eyes.
We act out in routine the words in our heads.
Thus, politics=social=psyche, and the determination runs top-down, through institutions, the crystallized structures of power with official discourses & practices, creating the channels through which human agency is exercised. Read Foucault, he’s great. Thus, as every student of sociology knows, it is impossible to ‘not have,’ or think outside of, ideologies.
Pretty easy right? Now you can get a job as a marketing executive or in a public relations department at your favorite social media platform… but they don’t even think so far as all that. They are very much trapped within the ideology they spin, often not realizing the link between reality and the consequences of their own work (like the main characters in 1984 & Brave New World.) Or they just don’t give a shit, they’re making money, man.
(Yes, ‘science’ is included in ideology. It is a crucial section of our peculiar one. But that is another debate for another post.)
This is all very interesting right? Time to radically rethink everything about your life, huh? Abandon what you know? Drop out and start selling acid? Not quite? No?
Obviously, it is high time to critically analyze our ideology and realize the connection between the way we are conditioned to think and behave and the near-hopeless catastrophic civilizational situation at hand. Yes. Now that you know how it all works, literally the secret of all history and human civilizations (your welcome) we can begin to explore the present.
‘Consuuuummeee! Obeeeyyy!’ The religion of Konsumerizm.
Dear reader, you might not think that our everyday life & our personal actions could possibly be ‘ideological,’ or worse, outwardly political in any way. Indeed, that is a mark of our ideology at work, this non-recognition. Listen up. You might ask: “what does my going to mcdonald’s have to do with our atrocious president and corporate oligarchy? What’s wrong with going to the mall to hang out?” As stated above, our daily life is the very constituency of society and our political situation; it couldn’t consist of anything else. We are society! I emphasize here because it is the first strand of unravelling our ideology. Are you with me?
‘big brother is watching you…’
This sort of heavy-handedness would never work in the United States- it is a caricature of Stalin’s means of controlling the Soviet Union. As such, it is very early-1900’s, much too primitive for a place as complex as postmodern digital America. But this is our typical conception of ‘ideology.’
In the U.S., you might see an advertisement for jeans (or gadgets, food-products, etc.) in place of a portrait of our leader- so, what are we worshipping?
Let’s take a look at the ideology that insidiously covers every wall and surface of our social matrix with a frightening all-presence; you can’t do anything these days without looking at a god-damn advertisement.
What does this mean? Let’s let them tell us.
It’s brutally & oppressively obvious, right? How dumb do you think we are? ‘buy these jeans, our jeans, that this sexy model likes. You’ll be sexy too.’
Essentially. But it’s a little more complicated.
(I should’ve chosen something dumber. The sultry calm gaze of the blonde is enticing to both masochistic men (the guy she’s riding) and sadistic women who co-desire her position and seek to embody her power. The sado-masochism and pretty white models tell a story and construct the viewer, in order to sell expensive, sexy leather jeans.) ooh yeah!
Commercials, no matter their variations and themes, are not so different from the typical argument ad populum. Like a congressman on Fox News, foaming at the mouth about how all “Americans” should support the Iraq war, the advertisement is a pitch to the guts. An appeal to identity and a play on our unconscious Desire to belong, to be recognized as a member, to be assured-of-our-being by the Other-who-knows (the congressman on the screen, the journalists, professors, any authority).
The advertisement, like the war-mongering demagogue, speaks to the feelings, consisting of only a superficial association between ‘product x’ and ego-desire. (Jeans are sexy, Starbucks is cool, coca-cola is family and friends, etc.) It would seem that their discourse stops at the superficial level of consuming, that their message does not mean anything other and does not go beyond the product and the feeling they are attempting to equivocate. Wrong.
Consider how such messages are systematically impressed upon us. Consider advertisements (in the plural) as a social formation- Think politics=social=psyche. On the psychic level, advertisements are pretty much a plea bargain to part with your money in exchange for whatever dumb thing. But on the social level, there is a much larger argument at work here; the advertisements, in their neon shriek of subconscious associations, are impressing and suggesting a system of values & a way of seeing– teaching us ‘what is a Desirable way-to-be.’
The methods of communication employed, the appeal to ego-desire, is designed to make the ‘viewer’ self-conscious- catch that? It’s not that we are meant to see them, the real punch of the advertisement is that it makes us see our selves. It is the lens, the ‘normal’ by which we judge our own experience.
The healthy skeptic in you is keeping this at arm’s length. But consider- why do we do the things we do, zooming around in our petroleum go-go mobiles, sucking down in-n-out milkshakes, staring without trust through the glass of our vehicle at the person living an identical life, through the glass of their own vehicle? zoooom! from the box-house to the car to the freeway to work, and reverse. what are we doing?
I’ll tease out a little of their metaphysics for you, just to get your imagination started.
The indoctrination of commercial ideology-
Caught in the gaze of the beautiful poster people, they invoke us to consume, their expressions and attitudes (in the plural and multitude) are equivocated, not with the specific product shown, but with consuming in the abstract, as an activity in itself, as a means towards the enjoyment represented in the model’s faces or the advertisement’s mise-en-scene.
Furthermore, it is not just the action of consuming becoming the primary means by which we access our feelings, (of sex, belonging, of meaning, of happiness or peace) it is the more psychological and nefarious action of alienating us from feeling for ourselves. (Think DFW- ‘secondhand Desires’).
The commercials, as an institution, steal from us our ability to know ourselves. From infancy on, we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of the Others in the ads.
In our day and age, it is not just that we buy commodities to attain status, or to metaphorically experience life through them, we buy commodities because they are the very fabric of meaning by which we exist; advertisements sustain us. We exist and govern ourselves under their watchful eyes. The world would surely collapse if we banned advertising. Ads don’t exist for us to see them, we exist for advertisements; we exist to fulfill their longing gaze, and hoping, through them, to gain our very being. We don’t want to let them down, we want to be busy, witty, and pretty. But no, then we would be freed from the spell. The commercials need us to stay hungry and unsatisfied, unhappy and vaguely anxious.
I’m using advertisements as an illustrative example. But it’s not just commercials which espouse consumer ideology. Consider the way our favorite characters are depicted in television and fiction, what do they do for fun? What do they value and discuss? How do they talk about each other and the world?
I know that kind of takes the fun out of watching it.Here’s a re-cap and beyond for you:
- psychologically– advertisements (the ideology, the system of values they assume, impress, and create in the viewer) function through associating feelings and things, through professionally artistic means, usually designed to speak to you in a flash, right in the guts. (or the genitals).
- socially– advertisements (in the plural) function to establish ‘normal’ behavior and standards and taste. Consuming is what we do. We go shopping. We eat at new restaurants. We buy entertainment, health, education, friendship, social interaction. (DVD’s, gym memberships, college, prestige, smart phones).
and, the kicker, the real juicy part that will make you quit modernity and become a shaolin monk:
- politically– the discourse of ads and their proliferation functions to keep us thoroughly neurotic, always self-conscious, never quite as cool as is depicted to be normal and good. Commercials, on this scale, rather than being meant to be seen by us, are meant to make us see ourselves, and adjust our behavior accordingly.
Advertisements, through the desire-to-belong that they speak to in all of us, guarantees a form of self-supervision through gradually, subtly, turning the mind’s eye inside-out, creating along the fault lines of the insecure and atomized ego a certain concavity, a breaking inwards along our all-too-human weakness and frailty; in order to make us grow along the stakes (like a young tree) in a bent self-consciousness.
We are socialized into this neurotic, adolescent state so as to be too self-absorbed and wrapped up in insecurity, self-loathing, and meaningless wandering, to ever hope of waking up and realizing how we create our lives, our world, and societies. It’s particularly difficult as everyone else is incapable of reaching out, being interpolated by the very same ideology and seeing themselves in the very same vantage, that of the Pretty Poster People.
Yaass! Consuuummmeee! Moooreeee! Fill your lonely heartssss! Feeeeedddd!
Got it? This is the bizarre worship of our times. Like the dark-hearted priests telling the villagers they are unclean sinners, to burn in superhell for infinity; telling us to hate ourselves, teaching us ways of redemption, and the route to achieving it. (work work work work work work.) We sing the gospel and dance. This is the religion of consumerism, 21st century propaganda.
Shit, so what if I eat Mac-Dee’s?
Dear reader, my intent is not to guilt trip you with statistics of how much energy and resources we burn up and consume in our day to day lives. I think it is well understood now, among those who care to know, how ecologically damaging, socially alienating, and psychologically impoverishing our lifestyle is. Among my fellow millennial’s it is no longer cool to not care, that’s so gen-x and two decades ago. Get with the times, man. Global crisis, and all that.
Zizek has thoroughly explained how the typical guilt-trip and the individualizing of consumerist-remorse is an inept and ineffectual critique. The advertisers anticipate our budding minimally-enlightened consciousness, and include the consumer-regret in the purchase (with organic products, fair trade coffee, and so on.)
But, just as a thought experiment, and to further expose our ideology, consider the screen-gadget industry, just to see how this shit works.
A liquid-crystal-display flat screen tell-a-vision is a must-have for any first apartment, right? Gotta get that call of duty on. Or whatever violent spectacle it is now. Consider the screen- whose production destroyed ecologically/socially/psychologically the African community where the raw resources and minerals needed were mined, than shipped to the Asian or Latin American community which was destroyed ecologically/socially/psychologically in the assembly and production of the screen itself, which was then transported to the West, where the product displaces authentic life and impresses on its consumer more consumer–ideology. The displacement of actual social activity only causes more of a lonely ache in the Westerner, who then engages the ideology of consumption in seeking to gain a thrill through more purchases.
Why are we stuck in this trap?
Partly because it is so well-designed. On university campuses across the nation we are constantly urged to adopt more sustainable lifestyles, to purchase more expensive and elitist ‘green’ products and take part in the ‘sustainable’ revolution, solely through our individual consumption. What’s a revolution without a revolt? It’s not enough to recycle everything carefully, ride the bus, and consume less food-stuffs and packaging. We have to take collective action to prevent these things from being created in the first place!
We can’t escape a social problem and a political design through personal choices. It’s a start, but the imperative is to engage with ideology on equal footing- what’s the difference between taking a walk with a friend or going to the park, and consuming a DVD together? Without the distraction of consuming a screen spectacle, the possibility and space for a real discussion and authentic interaction is possible. It’s interesting to think about how life could be different.
Remember, politics=social=psyche. The function of the consumerist religion is to divert, and confuse the psyche, to lead us by the nose with an individualist, personal lens on life, to further enrich and empower the corporate oligarchy. Thousands of people paint their faces and scream and riot at a baseball game but no one votes. Hollywood regularly rakes in more money on opening-nights than any grassroots political campaign could hope.
Seductive and deadly, poison and distraction. My fellow Americans, Seize your Desire! Seize your fantasy!
Peace. and remember: